Coming to America – Day 2

June 20th

Our mission today was to travel to Cheswick, PA to find Deer Creek Cemetery and the graves of our Grandfather George and Uncle Felix.  We had breakfast at the hotel and set off with an overcast sky.  The scenery was beautiful, so green and so different from the Los Angeles area!  We found the very old cemetery and set out looking for the graves.  Gary had looked up the information, and we knew which sections they were in, or so we thought.  We all got a lot of steps in as we went back and forth, row after row looking at gravestones.

deer creek cemetery.

I personally find old cemeteries very interesting and can wander for hours looking at the headstones and wondering who these people were, what their lives were like, etc.  A lot of the people buried here were born in the mid- to late 1800s.

Kyle and Clark found George Despot’s headstone (1888-1941), and we gathered around.  He died of black lung from working in the coal mines.  It was emotional for Gary and I, remembering our mother had told us and knowing that she had been here when he was buried.

It started lightly raining as we looked for Felix’s grave.  Back and forth, up and down we went in the grass.  We couldn’t find the grave, but our shoes sure got wet!  We finally went to the office, and the groundskeeper looked it up right away, so we followed him in his vehicle to the correct section.  We found Felix’s headstone (1916-1947), who died of a burst appendix, and that of this daughter Judith.  We thought of the stories our mother had told us of her big brother.

Our mother had a younger brother who also came to America; his name was Albert, or Uncle Al as we all called him.  He joined the Navy and ended up settling in San Pedro, CA to work as a fisherman.  After our mother’s dad and brother Felix passed away, she moved out to Long Beach, CA to be near her brother Al.  Our next stop was in memory of him.  We climbed into the van and headed to Oakmont Country Club where Uncle Al had worked as a caddie when he was a kid.  Gary fondly remembers Uncle Al telling stories of working at Oakmont.  A little history for those who don’t follow golf:  the course at Oakmont Country Club, designed in 1903, is one of the most difficult in North America.  It has hosted more combined USGA and PGA championships than any other course in the United States.  We arrived at the guard shack and explained that we just wanted to go to the pro shop and pick up a few souvenirs because Uncle Al had worked here many, many years ago.  The gentleman gave us the once over (being sure we were properly dressed because golf courses can have dress codes) and said we could go in.  What we could see of the golf course was absolutely beautiful as well as the buildings.  We picked up some gifts to take back home and set off.

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national burger day!

last tuesday was national burger day, so after a grueling workout at orangetheory fitness, phillip and i decided it was only right that we join in the celebration.  i pulled up yelp, in search of a burger joint we had not yet tried.  as i scrolled through pages of results, i stumbled upon a burger place that is not only off buford highway (some of atlanta’s best restaurants are off buford highway) but is also inside a chevron gas station!  i asked phillip just how adventurous he was feeling that night, and he kindly obliged my curiosity, especially when i told him this spot has four stars.  so, we pulled out of the lot, drove about ten minutes north, and were ready to give burger baby a chance.

like many of the reviews state, two things are definitely true.  first, you most certainly will miss this place if you are not looking for it.  second, once you do know what you are looking for, things are going to look a little curious.  the signs are a bit beat up and nothing really looks official, but if you can get past that, you’ll find in the left back corner of the store the burger baby counter.  even before we ordered, i immediately knew this adventure and meal would be dedicated to anthony bourdain.  i’m most certain this is the type of place he would want us to try on such an occasion.

as we perused the menus, loads of fresh, delectable “wangs” were being dressed for some customers in front of us.  if i hadn’t come there with the mission of celebrating national burger day, i may have walked out of there with a basket of wings.  guess we’ll just have to come back another time!

it was our turn to order, so we asked the lovely patrice for some help in navigating the menu.  she made a few recommendations, and we ultimately decided on two orders of sliders (four sliders total), one with muenster and the other with swiss, and some french fries.  patrice was kind enough to hook us up with a side cup of parmesan garlic sauce for dipping, a creation she has self-named “patrice’s parm fries.”  spoiler alert – they did not disappoint.

all the burgers and fries are made fresh to order, so while we waited we jammed along to some “wild thoughts” by rihanna along with the lion king on the tv in the background.  doesn’t get much better than that!

along with the sweet tunes, here are other things you need to know about burger baby.  they do accept credit cards, something i mention because sometimes with smaller places that is not the case.  also, there is nowhere to sit and eat here.  there are a couple stools, but those are more for when you’re waiting.  so, definitely plan to eat this in your car (while it’s still hot!) or enjoy it elsewhere.

it wasn’t too long before patrice called out our name for food.  we thanked her for her friendly suggestions and wisher her luck at her birthday dinner later that week.  what can i say?  i can chat it up with just about anyone.  🙂

thumbs up, patrice!

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flower child – atlanta, ga

last weekend tori was in town for some baby andrich festivities, and if anyone knows our family, they love going out to their favorite atlanta restaurants when in town.  don’t get me wrong:  birmingham has a buzzing food scene that is making waves these days, but we all have those must-have or must-try spots when we go to a new city or visit a familiar one.

well, last sunday we decided to take her to flower child, a new restaurant around lenox.  i’d noticed it when we were eating at another restaurant near there last month, and after taking a look at the menu online, i knew it would be the perfect spot for a delicious lunch on a hot summer afternoon.

we arrived right at noon on a sunday, hoping to beat the out-pouring of church crowds.  however, it seems that everyone else in buckhead had the same idea.  our wait wasn’t too long, thank goodness, but the restaurant was already full of folks and looked like it had been busy since open.  flower child is a “fast-casual” restaurant, where you order at the register and they bring your food to you.  don’t worry, though, with a long line you’ll have plenty of time to decide on what to eat.  plus, they had infused water available to help keep you hydrated in that lovely august heat.

to no one’s surprise, we all had trouble deciding what to have, as nearly everything on the menu made our mouths water!  we eventually made our selections, paid, and found a table right next to their charming and colorful “choose happy” wall.  if that doesn’t make you smile, i don’t know what will!

already excited about this new restaurant experience, our minds were blown when the bowls and plates started to arrive.  i’m not going to go through each dish one-by-one (mainly because all you need to know is that everyone loved what they ordered), so what i will say is that everyone was in the clean plate club that afternoon.  i kid you not when i say not a single morsel remained!

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can you find me back at flower child again?  most certainly!  and most likely after a sweaty soulcycle class.  further, do i recommend you yourself try flower child?  absolutely!  i already mentioned it to my friend marty and insisted he invite us when he wants to go.  🙂  if you are looking for fresh, fun fare that gets you excited to put aside your typical greasy meal out, please do yourself a favor and try flower child.  and tell me when you go.  cause imma wanna be there.

rice flour and tapioca flour and xantham gum, oh my!

many of you know how much i love to bake, and some of you have even been lucky enough to enjoy some of my treats.  now, since i no longer have an office to go into, i had to figure out what to do with all my baked goods, because keeping a whole cake or tray of cookies in the condo with just phillip and me is out of the question.  we’d be too tempted to eat it all ourselves!  so, i started baking things phillip could take to his coworkers.  he’s relatively new at his job as well, and there’s almost no better way to make friends in a new place than coming in with something tasty to share with everyone.

the first recipe i sent to the office with him were those classic and delicious peanut butter, sugar-rolled cookies with a hershey’s kiss on top.  they are almost always a crowd-pleaser!  but when phillip returned at the end of the day with nearly half the cookies still in the tin, i was a wreck!  “phillip, what happened?  did people not like them?  we tried them last night and they were perfect!”  after taking a moment to catch my breath, phillip responded, “well, it turns out that a lot of people in the office are gluten-free and couldn’t eat them.  but those who did have one loved them!”  such a great cheerleader.  🙂

“well, i guess i need to find some gluten-free recipes, then!”  so, discouraged not and determined much, i was on the hunt, and since i know nothing about gluten-free baking, i took my search to social media and relied on my trusty facebook friends to lend a hand.  luckily, within what seemed like just minutes, several folks responded with suggestions – what great people!  after perusing the suggestions, we finally decided that this gluten-free chocolate chip recipe would be the way to go.  it is a classic and cookies are easy to share, so it seemed like it had potential to be a winner.

nothing about the recipe itself scared me away; however, i had to be sure we had the right gluten-free ingredients on hand, so off to whole foods i went!  i made a beeline to the baking aisle and was astounded at the variety and number of alternative baking ingredients out there.  who knew such a world existed!  after checking the shelves, checking my shopping list, and checking my shopping cart again, i was ready to go.

back at the condo with the necessary supplies flung around the kitchen, it was time to get to work.  step by step everything came together nicely, and phillip can confirm that the batter itself tasted as delicious as any one of your favorite gluten-full chocolate chip cookie recipe batters.  that’s got to be a good sign!

but, the real test would be when the cookies were baked, cooled, and ready to eat.  as stated in the recipe, i tried baking them for 14 minutes per sheet, rotating halfway through, but those batches were a little more golden than we prefer, likely due to our oven running a little hot.

so, we bumped it down to 12 minutes total and ended up with a pretty delicious result.  i mean, we just had to taste test a couple of cookies each, washing them down with an ice-cold glass of milk.

with new-found gluten-free confidence, we packaged the cookies up, wrote up a little note and ingredient list, and phillip took them to the office the next day.  i almost couldn’t concentrate on my own work, i was so eager to hear if they were liked!  i got a text from phillip in the afternoon that people were loving the cookies and were appreciative that we took the time and money to go out of our way and make a gluten-free recipe.  ah!  success is ours!

now, we could have stopped there, content with the joy our cookies brought phillip’s co-workers.  however, the baker in me was too intrigued and had to keep going.  one of my own colleagues recommended to me a book called alternative baker, and i have been conquering it like there is no tomorrow!  from the corn meal blueberry muffins to the no-bake oat bars, everything we have made so far has been a hit and there is only more to explore and create.  what more could a baker ask for, right?  right!  if you’re someone out there who has a sweet tooth like us but has some dietary restrictions, i highly recommend giving this particular recipe and this book a try.  the baking world is full of so many creative options, and who knows, maybe you’ll surprise yourself with a new favorite.  🙂  enjoy!

hattie b’s hot chicken – birmingham, al

this past weekend, phillip and i made a swift drive west to visit my parents in birmingham for a couple of days.  it was a belated birthday celebration for my father as well as an early valentine’s day gathering for all four of us.

my mom was occupied at the school for a show choir event all day saturday, so phillip and i helped my dad run errands around town and then take kramer for a lovely afternoon walk over at heardmont park.  this place brings back countless memories of my brothers during the baseball days, and my father and i reminisced as we strolled from field to field.

the day crept into the evening, and i’d say all four of us had worked up quite an appetite for dinner.  so, we all hopped in phillip’s mazda and my dad navigated us to downtown birmingham where we joined the crowd in line at hattie b’s for some hot chicken.

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future son-in-law with his future father-in-law. 🙂

we waited in line for about ten minutes, but it wasn’t so bad since that gave us time to look over the menu.  now, mom and dad have been here before, and both testified that the medium sauce made their heads sweat.  per their recommendation, i then knew that the mild would be the way to go.  in addition to choosing your heat level, you also have several chicken choices.  from breasts to wings to tenders, surely there’s something on this menu that can satisfy.

at seven o’clock on a saturday night, you can probably imagine how busy this place already was.  so, when a table opened up, i sprinted to claim it for us.  as i settled in and took a look around, it was clear by the simple atmosphere and the line out the door that tasty eating was awaiting us.

mom, dad, and phillip arrived with our number and our drinks and we chatted as we waited on our food.  i’m going to guess that they try to make everything fresh to order, because we had plenty of time to discuss wedding plans.  oh, did i mention phillip and i are engaged?  well, if you didn’t know before, you’re in the know now!  🙂  more on all that fun to come later.

in the end, the food was certainly worth the wait.  between the sides and the chicken, there was hardly anything left on our plates!  the pimento cheese mac’n’cheese was creamy with a little kick, the collard greens were well-cooked (and i’d recommend throwing some hot sauce on them to spice things up), and i heard the potato salad, fries, and coleslaw were also delicious.

my mild tenders were, first of all, humongous.  i actually needed help finishing them!  although delicious when dipped in either the honey mustard or bleu cheese, a bite on its own was quite flavorful.  i’m glad i went with the mild because although the heat may not be in-your-face at first, you definitely start feeling it after two or three tenders.  phillip also had the mild tenders and didn’t leave a single bite uneaten.  mom said her southern chicken tenders were wonderful and dad could not get enough of the mild wings he ordered.

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i’d say if i find myself back at hattie b’s (which i’m sure i will) i think i’ll go for the wings.  the tenders are awesome if that’s what you’re in the mood for, but the wings really looked like they might be this restaurant’s specialty.  i also don’t doubt i’d try the potato salad (it looked awesome on my mom’s plate) and i would certainly get an order of the banana pudding.  my mom says it is heavenly, and i don’t think i’ll forgive myself if i forget to get it next time.

equal parts cream cheese & bagel

for those of you who maybe don’t know me well, i have a confession to share:  i love bagels and i love cream cheese and i love them even more when they’re together.  i don’t know when my obsession really started, but it’s been around for ages.  i remember even back in college when i’d have breakfast with kari and brett on tuesday and thursday mornings before class.  we’d meet up at snelling hall on uga’s campus for a quick bite to eat.  i would get a couple of scrambled eggs, some fruit, and then half a bagel.  now, like many restaurant establishments, snelling provided the little philadelphia cream cheese single-serve tubs for use.  most normal human beings might use the logic that “since i have half a bagel, i only need half the tub of cream cheese.”  well, no such logic exists in my world.  i shamelessly smothered that half bagel with ALL the cream cheese for the tub and enjoyed every single bite.  the 1:1 ratio of bagel to cream cheese was the best part of my morning.

well, i’m happy to report i have yet to outgrow this appetite obsession.  ask anyone around me and they’ll tell you the same.  these days, though, without a dining hall to satisfy my bagel-cream cheese cravings, i stop about once a week at goldberg’s.  it just happens to be on the right side of the road on my drive into work; it’s a miracle i don’t stop in there more, actually.

anyway, i typically order an egg bagel toasted with plain cream cheese.  this might not sound so exciting, but trust me when i say that EGG BAGELS ARE EVERYTHING.  anyway, a couple weeks ago i made my regular stop, ordered my regular order, but was slightly disappointed when i got to the office and opened the bag.  there was a measly spread of cream cheese between the two slices of bagel, and it nearly ruined my morning.  okay, that is an exaggeration; i still enjoyed the bagel, but it was obvious with each bite that there should have been more cream cheese.

so, this past friday i stopped in as i usually do and when they took my order, i said, “now, last time i ordered the cream cheese was a bit skimpy.  this time can you be sure there’s a generous amount on there?”  after asking i held my breath, slightly terrified the employee was going to judge me and then proceed to talk about me to everyone the moment i left the restaurant.  however, a smile grew on her face and she said, “i’ll be sure to take care of you.”

i thanked her, waited at the check-out line, and paid.  once the bagel was ready, she reached over the counter to hand it to me and i was instantly satisfied.  wait, how could i know, without opening the bag, that she had done me right?  i’ll tell you how.  the bag felt heavy.  oh yes, i knew she had heard a sister’s cry for cream cheese and delivered!

see?  look at that cream cheese to bagel ratio.  nearly equal, as it should be.

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then, then!  the real test was passed.  you always know you have the right amount of cream cheese on a bagel when you can see your teeth marks in the cream cheese after taking a bite.  i was in heaven!

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do i really think i’ll ever outgrow my cream cheese-bagel obsession?  likely not.  in fact, i hope i pass it down to my children!  if you’ve got any good bagel suggestions that would rock my world, i would love to hear them.  this request especially goes to my friend jamie who is on a one-man mission to try new bagels and cream cheeses in his town of new york city.  you go, boy!

ze best chili ever

yesterday at work we had the annual chili cookoff at the office.  like a good sport, i offered to bring some in.  however, i don’t really have a go-to-chili recipe on hand.  lucky me, my family out in california is all about a good chili competition, so i went to the experts for a little help.

my cousin ali was quick to supply a recipe that put her in first place at a local competition in southern los angeles.  well, if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me!  i pulled up the recipe and was slightly intimidated by the required prep work and number of ingredients, but i figured if i was going to make some chili i may as well go all out for it.

to make things easy on myself, i chopped all the vegetables earlier in the week so that the actual cooking would be a quick process.  now, after having made the chili and also eaten more bowls than i care to admit, i think it goes a long way if you chop the vegetables up as tiny as you can.  i mean, i’m not sure a big ‘ole hunk of green pepper is really what you want, but if that’s how you like your chili, go for it!

also, whatever you do, do not leave out the italian sausage.  in my opinion, the sausage is what makes the chili, so please, please, make sure you have it in there.

finally, i think i could have used a bit more heat.  now, the recipe calls for four tablespoons of chili powder which, honestly, terrified me.  as such (and not wanting the chili to be inedible because it was too spicy), i used only a single tablespoon of chili powder.  however, this recipe makes so much that i think i easily could have done at least two if not three, and i am a spice wimp.

so!  the chili cooked overnight as i dreamed happy dreams, and when i awoke in the morning, my nose was warmly greeted with the delectable scent of a cozy, home-cooked meal in the crockpot.  after freshening up, i loaded up the car and headed to the office, where i counted down the minutes until noon so that i could eat.  it’s hard to not be hungry when there are crockpots full of chili in the office!

once the hour was upon us, our moderators meghan and greg explained that we could try all three and then vote for our favorite chili, for the most unique chili, and then for the hottest chili.  the votes would be cast and collected and then the winners would be decided.

my coworkers and i gabbed and relaxed between bites of chili and cheese and bread, but i was secretly (and anxiously) awaiting the results of the competition.  now, i wouldn’t say i am much of  a competitor, but i wanted to make ali proud!

so, after all bowls were emptied and the tally sheets were in, the results were……that i won the most unique chili!  people liked the seasonings and sausage (duh!) and thought the flavor profile was unexpected (in a good way).  greg won the award for the hottest chili and then our other coworker tabri won the award for the favorite chili.  i think the potatoes in tabri’s chili is what won over everyone, even i admit it!

it was such a pleasure to become part of this company tradition, and even though the chili was a bit of work, i’d say it was worth every minute spent.  this chili is hearty without being heavy and is so delicious that i had a hard time putting my spoon down.  if you’re looking for a warm meal as the winter weather sweeps in, give this recipe a try.  i bet it’d be a hard thing to be disappointed with it.

tabri, greg, & me.

tabri, greg, & me.

bon glaze – buckhead, ga

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yesterday morning phillip and i opened the windows in the condo to let in the newly arrived fresh autumn air and then i hustled out the door for a couple errands.  after dropping off the dry cleaning, i crossed roswell to try out bon glaze, a darling donut walk-up just up the street from us here in buckhead.

their sign went up several months ago, and within the past couple of weeks they celebrated that they are now open for business.  i pass by bon glaze every day i drive to work, so you can imagine i was intrigued by the name and also their slogan:  doughnuts – bacon – coffee.  once i saw that they were open at last, i knew i needed to check it out.

first, bon glaze is not a sit-down kind of place.  it’s just like a street vendor you might find in a big city:  you walk up, order, and await your scrumptious food to be prepared and delivered.  perhaps if it’s possible they can install some benches around the area so that folks are invited to have a coffee and a donut, chat it up with friends, and then order more donuts.  i mean, i’m just saying…

anyway!  it’s a good thing i got there when i did because after i ordered folks came flocking as though a beacon from atop the store was beckoning them to come eat.  i mentioned to the cashier that it was my first time at bon glaze, and i was grateful that his cheery demeanor was more than happy to make some recommendations.

wanting to go for a combination of sweet and savory, i ordered the breakfast sandwich, a blueberry sour cream cake donut, a classic vanilla bean glazed donut, and the boston cream.  do be advised that the breakfast sandwich and waffles (yes, they have waffles) are made-to-order, so you can easily devour one or two of the other donuts while you wait or even order more.  i think these guys know what they’re doing. 😉

anyway, i managed to keep my hungry paws off the donuts until i made it back home to share them with phillip.  we first tried the breakfast sandwich since it had a warm egg, bacon, and cheese between two halves of a classic glazed donut.  the sweet icing from the donut with the salty bacon and melty cheese made for a fabulous combination.  although i wanted more, i’m glad i only had half because there was more to enjoy.

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among the remaining three, each of them was indulgent and sinful in their own way.  the blueberry sour cream was flavorful and perfectly cooked – not too overdone and not too sweet.  i would gladly order this customer favorite again.  the vanilla bean glazed was outstanding.  it melted in my mouth with each bite and certainly sets the standard for a traditional glazed donut.  as for the boston cream?  well, let’s just say eating one of these could be your dessert.  the chocolate is rich and the donut, again, perfectly cooked.  however, phillip and i both agreed it needed a touch more cream on the inside.

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even though donuts don’t tend to be my breakfast food of choice, i would gladly go to bon glaze again for a sweet treat.  it’s close by, the donuts are handmade, and the quality of their product is undeniable.  each of the donuts we had this weekend i would certainly order again, but you can bet i’d be more than happy to try some of the bon bons, the espresso cream donut, or the chocolate-glazed bacon next time.  if you find yourself in the buckhead area and have a sweet tooth that needs to be satisfied, stop on by bon glaze and treat yo’self!

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get ‘dis cashew chicken

earlier this week i decided to whip up some dinner for phillip and me.  i wasn’t terribly interested in any of the tried-and-true recipes from my cookbook (although they all have a special place in my heart), so i took to the world wide web in search of something good.  i didn’t have to look too far or too wide to find this delectable cashew chicken recipe from the pioneer woman.  this dish was so tasty that phillip barely said a word to me in between bites; compliments to the chef!  feel free to put the chicken on a bed of rice or noodles, whatever tickles your fancy.  the brown rice we had was a great base for the rich flavors of this sauce.  my only comment?  do be careful to not add too much salt; the ingredients you are using will be sure to take care of that for you.  🙂

gimme them grits!

tonight i was in a southern food kind of mood, so i whipped up some classic shrimp and grits with okra for phillip and me.  this recipe by bobby flay of the food network is simple and tastes like something you might get at your favorite local restaurant.  i didn’t have stone-ground grits, so i cooked up instant grits, timing it just right with the shrimp and okra.  and if i’m going to tell you one thing about this recipe, it’s that it wouldn’t be anything without the six chopped up pieces of bacon.  their salty nature is perfectly with the creamy, cheesy grits.  this one’s a keeper, for sure!